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LZ4 Frame Format Description

Notices

Copyright (c) 2013-2015 Yann Collet

Permission is granted to copy and distribute this document for any purpose and without charge, including translations into other languages and incorporation into compilations, provided that the copyright notice and this notice are preserved, and that any substantive changes or deletions from the original are clearly marked. Distribution of this document is unlimited.

Version

1.6.1 (30/01/2018)

Introduction

The purpose of this document is to define a lossless compressed data format, that is independent of CPU type, operating system, file system and character set, suitable for File compression, Pipe and streaming compression using the LZ4 algorithm.

The data can be produced or consumed, even for an arbitrarily long sequentially presented input data stream, using only an a priori bounded amount of intermediate storage, and hence can be used in data communications. The format uses the LZ4 compression method, and optional xxHash-32 checksum method, for detection of data corruption.

The data format defined by this specification does not attempt to allow random access to compressed data.

This specification is intended for use by implementers of software to compress data into LZ4 format and/or decompress data from LZ4 format. The text of the specification assumes a basic background in programming at the level of bits and other primitive data representations.

Unless otherwise indicated below, a compliant compressor must produce data sets that conform to the specifications presented here. It doesn’t need to support all options though.

A compliant decompressor must be able to decompress at least one working set of parameters that conforms to the specifications presented here. It may also ignore checksums. Whenever it does not support a specific parameter within the compressed stream, it must produce a non-ambiguous error code and associated error message explaining which parameter is unsupported.

General Structure of LZ4 Frame format

MagicNb F. Descriptor Block (...) EndMark C. Checksum
4 bytes 3-15 bytes 4 bytes 0-4 bytes

Magic Number

4 Bytes, Little endian format. Value : 0x184D2204

Frame Descriptor

3 to 15 Bytes, to be detailed in its own paragraph, as it is the most important part of the spec.

The combined Magic Number and Frame Descriptor fields are sometimes called LZ4 Frame Header. Its size varies between 7 and 19 bytes.

Data Blocks

To be detailed in its own paragraph. That’s where compressed data is stored.

EndMark

The flow of blocks ends when the last data block has a size of “0”. The size is expressed as a 32-bits value.

Content Checksum

Content Checksum verify that the full content has been decoded correctly. The content checksum is the result of xxh32() hash function digesting the original (decoded) data as input, and a seed of zero. Content checksum is only present when its associated flag is set in the frame descriptor. Content Checksum validates the result, that all blocks were fully transmitted in the correct order and without error, and also that the encoding/decoding process itself generated no distortion. Its usage is recommended.

The combined EndMark and Content Checksum fields might sometimes be referred to as LZ4 Frame Footer. Its size varies between 4 and 8 bytes.

Frame Concatenation

In some circumstances, it may be preferable to append multiple frames, for example in order to add new data to an existing compressed file without re-framing it.

In such case, each frame has its own set of descriptor flags. Each frame is considered independent. The only relation between frames is their sequential order.

The ability to decode multiple concatenated frames within a single stream or file is left outside of this specification. As an example, the reference lz4 command line utility behavior is to decode all concatenated frames in their sequential order.

Frame Descriptor

FLG BD (Content Size) (Dictionary ID) HC
1 byte 1 byte 0 - 8 bytes 0 - 4 bytes 1 byte

The descriptor uses a minimum of 3 bytes, and up to 15 bytes depending on optional parameters.

FLG byte

BitNb 7-6 5 4 3 2 1 0
FieldName Version B.Indep B.Checksum C.Size C.Checksum Reserved DictID

BD byte

BitNb 7 6-5-4 3-2-1-0
FieldName Reserved Block MaxSize Reserved

In the tables, bit 7 is highest bit, while bit 0 is lowest.

Version Number

2-bits field, must be set to 01. Any other value cannot be decoded by this version of the specification. Other version numbers will use different flag layouts.

Block Independence flag

If this flag is set to “1”, blocks are independent. If this flag is set to “0”, each block depends on previous ones (up to LZ4 window size, which is 64 KB). In such case, it’s necessary to decode all blocks in sequence.

Block dependency improves compression ratio, especially for small blocks. On the other hand, it makes random access or multi-threaded decoding impossible.

Block checksum flag

If this flag is set, each data block will be followed by a 4-bytes checksum, calculated by using the xxHash-32 algorithm on the raw (compressed) data block. The intention is to detect data corruption (storage or transmission errors) immediately, before decoding. Block checksum usage is optional.

Content Size flag

If this flag is set, the uncompressed size of data included within the frame will be present as an 8 bytes unsigned little endian value, after the flags. Content Size usage is optional.

Content checksum flag

If this flag is set, a 32-bits content checksum will be appended after the EndMark.

Dictionary ID flag

If this flag is set, a 4-bytes Dict-ID field will be present, after the descriptor flags and the Content Size.

Block Maximum Size

This information is useful to help the decoder allocate memory. Size here refers to the original (uncompressed) data size. Block Maximum Size is one value among the following table :

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
N/A N/A N/A N/A 64 KB 256 KB 1 MB 4 MB

The decoder may refuse to allocate block sizes above any system-specific size. Unused values may be used in a future revision of the spec. A decoder conformant with the current version of the spec is only able to decode block sizes defined in this spec.

Reserved bits

Value of reserved bits must be 0 (zero). Reserved bit might be used in a future version of the specification, typically enabling new optional features. When this happens, a decoder respecting the current specification version shall not be able to decode such a frame.

Content Size

This is the original (uncompressed) size. This information is optional, and only present if the associated flag is set. Content size is provided using unsigned 8 Bytes, for a maximum of 16 Exabytes. Format is Little endian. This value is informational, typically for display or memory allocation. It can be skipped by a decoder, or used to validate content correctness.

Dictionary ID

Dict-ID is only present if the associated flag is set. It's an unsigned 32-bits value, stored using little-endian convention. A dictionary is useful to compress short input sequences. The compressor can take advantage of the dictionary context to encode the input in a more compact manner. It works as a kind of “known prefix” which is used by both the compressor and the decompressor to “warm-up” reference tables.

The decompressor can use Dict-ID identifier to determine which dictionary must be used to correctly decode data. The compressor and the decompressor must use exactly the same dictionary. It's presumed that the 32-bits dictID uniquely identifies a dictionary.

Within a single frame, a single dictionary can be defined. When the frame descriptor defines independent blocks, each block will be initialized with the same dictionary. If the frame descriptor defines linked blocks, the dictionary will only be used once, at the beginning of the frame.

Header Checksum

One-byte checksum of combined descriptor fields, including optional ones. The value is the second byte of xxh32() : (xxh32()>>8) & 0xFF using zero as a seed, and the full Frame Descriptor as an input (including optional fields when they are present). A wrong checksum indicates an error in the descriptor. Header checksum is informational and can be skipped.

Data Blocks

Block Size data (Block Checksum)
4 bytes 0 - 4 bytes

Block Size

This field uses 4-bytes, format is little-endian.

The highest bit is “1” if data in the block is uncompressed.

The highest bit is “0” if data in the block is compressed by LZ4.

All other bits give the size, in bytes, of the following data block (the size does not include the block checksum if present).

Block Size shall never be larger than Block Maximum Size. Such a thing could happen for incompressible source data. In such case, such a data block shall be passed in uncompressed format.

Data

Where the actual data to decode stands. It might be compressed or not, depending on previous field indications. Uncompressed size of Data can be any size, up to “block maximum size”. Note that data block is not necessarily full : an arbitrary “flush” may happen anytime. Any block can be “partially filled”.

Block checksum

Only present if the associated flag is set. This is a 4-bytes checksum value, in little endian format, calculated by using the xxHash-32 algorithm on the raw (undecoded) data block, and a seed of zero. The intention is to detect data corruption (storage or transmission errors) before decoding.

Block checksum is cumulative with Content checksum.

Skippable Frames

Magic Number Frame Size User Data
4 bytes 4 bytes

Skippable frames allow the integration of user-defined data into a flow of concatenated frames. Its design is pretty straightforward, with the sole objective to allow the decoder to quickly skip over user-defined data and continue decoding.

For the purpose of facilitating identification, it is discouraged to start a flow of concatenated frames with a skippable frame. If there is a need to start such a flow with some user data encapsulated into a skippable frame, it’s recommended to start with a zero-byte LZ4 frame followed by a skippable frame. This will make it easier for file type identifiers.

Magic Number

4 Bytes, Little endian format. Value : 0x184D2A5X, which means any value from 0x184D2A50 to 0x184D2A5F. All 16 values are valid to identify a skippable frame.

Frame Size

This is the size, in bytes, of the following User Data (without including the magic number nor the size field itself). 4 Bytes, Little endian format, unsigned 32-bits. This means User Data can’t be bigger than (2^32-1) Bytes.

User Data

User Data can be anything. Data will just be skipped by the decoder.

Legacy frame

The Legacy frame format was defined into the initial versions of “LZ4Demo”. Newer compressors should not use this format anymore, as it is too restrictive.

Main characteristics of the legacy format :

  • Fixed block size : 8 MB.
  • All blocks must be completely filled, except the last one.
  • All blocks are always compressed, even when compression is detrimental.
  • The last block is detected either because it is followed by the “EOF” (End of File) mark, or because it is followed by a known Frame Magic Number.
  • No checksum
  • Convention is Little endian
MagicNb B.CSize CData B.CSize CData (...) EndMark
4 bytes 4 bytes CSize 4 bytes CSize x times EOF

Magic Number

4 Bytes, Little endian format. Value : 0x184C2102

Block Compressed Size

This is the size, in bytes, of the following compressed data block. 4 Bytes, Little endian format.

Data

Where the actual compressed data stands. Data is always compressed, even when compression is detrimental.

EndMark

End of legacy frame is implicit only. It must be followed by a standard EOF (End Of File) signal, wether it is a file or a stream.

Alternatively, if the frame is followed by a valid Frame Magic Number, it is considered completed. This policy makes it possible to concatenate legacy frames.

Any other value will be interpreted as a block size, and trigger an error if it does not fit within acceptable range.

Version changes

1.6.1 : introduced terms "LZ4 Frame Header" and "LZ4 Frame Footer"

1.6.0 : restored Dictionary ID field in Frame header

1.5.1 : changed document format to MarkDown

1.5 : removed Dictionary ID from specification

1.4.1 : changed wording from “stream” to “frame”

1.4 : added skippable streams, re-added stream checksum

1.3 : modified header checksum

1.2 : reduced choice of “block size”, to postpone decision on “dynamic size of BlockSize Field”.

1.1 : optional fields are now part of the descriptor

1.0 : changed “block size” specification, adding a compressed/uncompressed flag

0.9 : reduced scale of “block maximum size” table

0.8 : removed : high compression flag

0.7 : removed : stream checksum

0.6 : settled : stream size uses 8 bytes, endian convention is little endian

0.5: added copyright notice

0.4 : changed format to Google Doc compatible OpenDocument